Get Out and Go to Fun Summer Events

Our writers’ favorite summer events run the gamut from the ultra local fare of a day devoted to mustard in a small Midwestern town to the huge SummerStage series in New York and the glorious Montreal Jazz Festival.


4 Knots Music Festival

After a successful ten-year run, The Village Voice has shut down the annual free indie rock concert, Siren Music Festival, held in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. No matter though, as the publication has replaced it with the brand spanking new and equally free 4Knots Music Festival, which will be held at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan on July 16th. The lineup already has Texas psychedelic rockers the Black Angels, Mexican garage band Davila 666 and New York’s own experimental youngin’ Oberhofer, with more bands sure to be added. What’s more, there is a free Ted Leo and the Pharmacists concert to kick off the festival a week earlier on July 9th. Will Rausch


Hometown Exploration

I don’t have much of a chance to vacation during the summer — there are few, if any, luxurious afternoons by a pool or hiking through the woods. But days off during the seasons can be spent whiling away the hours complaining that there’s nothing to do at home or by rendering the hometown landscape unfamiliar. I recommend getting in the car and driving to parts of your city you wouldn’t normally frequent. Try out that dive bar you’ve heard about but avoided, treat yourself to a lousy cup of coffee at that dusty greasy spoon that’s just a little too far out of your way to justify your dining at on a regular basis. Keep it simple — don’t decide you’re doing to seek out the local gunrunners and give them hand — and keep it somewhat decadent. My favorites including trucking down to the local Amish community for some excellent fried chicken and cinnamon roles and hunting for treasures at out-of-the-way thrift stores. Jedd Beaudoin


Hillside Festival (July 22-24 — Guelph, Canada)a

I’ve written about Hillside elsewhere before, and certainly among Canadian music fans it’s well known (maybe too much so; it’s getting crowded), but as far as North American music festivals go I think it’s still undervalued. They’ve been going for more than 25 years and have hosted everything from one of the Arcade Fire’s breakout performances to Los Campesinos!’s first North American show. The slate each year is still eclectic and local enough that you’ll see plenty of acts you’d have a hard time seeing anywhere else, but the source of its real draw for locals (tickets sell out fast) is just the experience of the festival itself. On a small almost-island at Guelph lake, complete with free, cold, unlimited drinking water and shuttles back to town, the people who run it have been careful to keep things small, sustainable, and relatively low key. I have yet to meet anyone who’s gone and not enjoyed it thoroughly. Ian Mathers


House Music in the Parks

During the summer the soulful grooves and pounding four-on-the-floor rhythms for which house music is known moves from dark nightclubs to the bright sunshine of city parks in the summer. Dancers spend hours outside sweating it out on the dance floor while top-rated DJs create a vibe that is both infectious and family-friendly. While Chicago, the home of house music and hosts its annual International House Music Festival, Soul Summit in Brooklyn, Sundae in Philadelphia, and House in the Park in Atlanta are equally intense alternatives. An open-air dance party during a summer Sunday sunset is a perfect way to wind down a weekend. Fredara Mareva


Milk Carton Boat Races (July 17 — Minneapolis)

Summer in Minnesota is glorious but brief, so Minnesotans tend to celebrate the heck out of it. One of many celebrations is the Minneapolis Aquatennial, a summertime festival in the “City of Lakes”. A signature event of the Aquatennial is the Milk Carton Boat Races, held at Lake Calhoun on July 17. As one might expect, the Milk Carton Boat Races feature boats constructed of paperboard containers; only the vessels’ frames may be built of wood or other material. The hull and superstructure of each craft must be the result of drinking a lot of dairy. This event could be improved if it were divided into separate heats for “artistic” and “speed”, as the sleek-yet-unimaginative crafts tend to glide effortlessly past the more visually interesting boats. Still, the shoreline is always packed with spectators at this free event. It’s something one must see to believe… and appreciate. Luke Taylor


Montreal Jazz Festival (June 25 – July 4)

The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is deservedly world-renowned. Organizers block off a core section of downtown (in the Quartier des spectacles) to traffic, so music-lovers can wander from stage to stage without worrying about getting run over by those notorious Quebecois drivers. The world’s biggest jazz festival has been going strong for over 30 years, with the biggest names in music counting it as an honor to appear. Past great performances have come from Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Winton Marsalis, and Herbie Hancock. Despite its name, artists from many crossover areas appear at the festival, a tribute to its wide-ranging appeal. This year Robert Plant is opening the festivities, while Ron Sexsmith, Marianne Faithfull, and the Jean Vanasse Quartet will make appearances on the final day. Tickets to the big name acts can be purchased ahead of time, while the free outdoor program will be announced in early June. Lara Killian


National Mustard Day (August 6 — Middleton, Wisconsin)

Barry Levenson has a passion for mustard. That’s why he founded a museum to honor and celebrate it: the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin, a suburb of Madison. Levenson also created National Mustard Day, a street festival the first Saturday in August that features live music (full disclosure: I performed there in 2006), face painting, carnival games and of course, lots and lots of mustard. Hot dogs with mustard are free; hot dogs with ketchup (a swear word to Levenson) are available at the suggested price of $10 each. Mustard custard has featured in the past — a frozen treat described as “not awful”. Puerile humor is the rule of the day, with Levenson and friends singing about their fictitious college, Poupon U. National Mustard Day certainly helps promote and sustain Levenson’s museum, but it also raises funds for local causes. It’s fun and perfectly silly. Luke Taylor


Red Rocks Concert Series (Denver)

Every summer, there are a few must-do’s for just about every Colorado local: bike, hike, and see music at Red Rocks. There is no comparison to a show anywhere else: you watch the sun set over the city of Denver from 8,000 feet above sea level, and the artists always show their appreciation for the naturally formed amphitheater by giving each performance everything they’ve got. Aside from the traditional July 4 Blues Traveler show and a number of other nostalgic evenings, this year will also give the opportunity to see the Avett Brothers play with Grace Potter, My Morning Jacket with Amos Lee, and Primus play with the Flaming Lips, and of course we can’t forget to mention Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown Tour. Jonathan Kosakow


SummerStage (New York)

In a city as crazy expensive as New York, the SummerStage free concert series gives music lovers’ wallets a break and the best reason to stay in town instead of heading to the beach. SummerStage has its main stage in the Rumsey Playfield in Central Park. But last year, when the series celebrated its 25th anniversary, SummerStage expanded to outdoor venues throughout the city. I’ve been going since the beginning, and oh, the memories. David Byrne playing a rhythm-mad set backed by a great Latin band, when a sudden downpour soaked him and us. (He kept playing and we kept dancing.) The New York-born, now European-based Kid Creole and the Coconuts, in a rare U.S. appearance, as fresh and suavely funky as in their ’80s heyday. Lucinda Williams, backed by my favorite of her bands, with guitarist Gurf Morlix, treating us to “Passionate Kisses” and other songs from her early albums. Gospel great Marion Williams ensconced on a throne in a huge tent set up onstage, regal and thrilling. The Malian duo Amadou and Mariam, turning Central Park into one big joyous party, a fête in a global village, with their Francophone blues rock. Italian pop star Jovanotti playing ’80s hip-hop with a multinational band of Italians, Brazilians, and New Yorkers. An astonishing revue of Roma music, with an explosive closing set by Mahala Raï Banda from Bucharest. This year I’m looking forward to Hugh Masakela and the terrific, young South African band Freshlyground, Levon Helm and Emmylou Harris (paid admission, to benefit SummerStage), Pink Martini, rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson, and Istanbulive, a revue of contemporary Turkish music. We New Yorkers can’t imagine summer without SummerStage, and it’s a popular tourist destination, too. Come join the party in the park! George De Stefano


Telluride Blues and Brews Festival (September 16-18)

Telluride, Colorado is not only one of the hardest places to get to, it is also one of the most beautiful. Gently tucked away in the San Juan Mountains of South Western Colorado, Telluride sits surrounded by mountains on three sides, with one road going in and out of town. Despite the seemingly impossible trip to get there (the closest major airport is 6 hours away) the town happens to be an epicenter of music and culture all year long. In September, Willie Nelson, the Flaming Lips and Robert Cray (among others) will host three days in the small town for those lucky enough to find their way there. It’s sure to be a quieter weekend than the famed Bluegrass Festival, but that may make it all the more enjoyable. Jonathan Kosakow


The 17th Annual Vans Warped Tour (June 24 – August 14)

Since its inception in 1995, the Vans Warped Tour has become a summer mainstay for punk enthusiasts, social activists, and thrill seekers alike. Each summer, this alternative music festival weaves its way across the country showcasing hundreds of bands, numerous groups and organizations providing awareness for their causes, and exciting sports spectacles ranging from BMX stunts to open half pipes for the skaters in attendance. Over the course of 17 years, the tour’s musical landscape has shifted from skate punk and ska to post-hardcore and pop-punk, but chances are that you’ll be able to find a band to your liking at any given time of the day playing on one of the tour’s multiple stages. When you’re in need of a break from the music, you’re invited to check out any of the hundreds of tents hosted by bands, record labels, and organizations or take part in any of the fun activities and games happening throughout the day. At Warped Tour you’re certain to meet new friends, learn about a cause, and discover your new favorite band. Just make sure you’re fully hydrated before making your way into the mosh pit. Kiel Hauck


Various Summer Festivals

For many, nothing says summer better than a music festival. The great outdoors, family and friends, fun activities for all ages; A music festival offers something for every one. Whether on a beach; Gathering of the Vibes, July 21-24th, Bridgeport, CT – on a mountainside; High Sierra Music Festival, Jun 30-July 3rd, Quincy, CA: or in a park; Outside Lands, August 12-14th, San Francisco; there’s a festival location to suite your desire. IF you’re a jazz or folk music lover, Newport is the place to be; Newport Folk Festival, July 30-31st or Newport Jazz Festival, Aug 5–7th, Fort Adams State Park: Newport, RI. If electronic music is more your style, take a trip to Re:Generation, June 23–26th, Horning’s Hideout: North Plains, OR. Phish Phans will be bouncing around a racetrack as the band performs multiple sets at Super Ball IX, July 1–3rd, Watkins Glen, NY. It’s summertime, so get out and enjoy the nice weather and good entertainment. Bill Clifford